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Of Subalterns, Stations & Sun,
By A Customer
This review is from: Plain Tales from the Hills (Penguin Popular Classics) (Paperback)
A fascinating collection of short stories from Rudyard Kipling, set and published during the time of the British Raj in India; a time of subalterns and tea planters, tiffin, picnics, riding and shooting, of bands playing, "The Roast Beef of England" and a government which never forgets and NEVER forgives, all played out under an unforgiving sun.
Every emotion is covered in this series of forty tales which reveal the deceit, faithlessness, shallowness, despair, mistrust, hate and petty jealousies rife among the British inhabitants of 'stations', 'Town' and 'Club' across India. Never mind the damn natives it's the damn rulers who need watching.
In 'The Rescue of Pluffles' we learn of an engaged subaltern called Pluffles who 'trusting to his own judgement' embarked on a foolish relationship with a Mrs Reivers, until the formidable Mrs Hauksbee (Mrs Reivers sworn enemy) embarked on, and won, the 'Seven Weeks War' to win him over 'for his fiancee'. The theme in this story is similar to the one in "Three and - an extra" where this time it is Mrs Hauksbee who attempts to "annex" a wayward husband, but fails, as his wife wins him back by....well....just by, "carrying herself superbly" at a dance and making the husband realise what a fool he was being.
In 'Thrown Away' we learn of the tragic tale of a young subaltern who had been brought up under the 'sheltered life system' and as such in an India where 'one must not take things too seriously' according to Kipling, he did just that, being a sensitive boy. The result was that the young man shot himself. The tragedy turns to comedy as Kipling and a Major discover the body and set about covering the suicide up.
'Lispeth' is a tale of the unrequited love between a lovely Hill-girl who had been brought up by an English Chaplain and his wife, called Elizabeth, and a young English traveller she found unconscious in the hills. The man promised to marry Lispeth when he returned so as not to hurt her feelings, but when Lispeth found out months later that it was a deception, returned angrily to her people and became a Hill-girl again, ending up a 'bleared, wrinkled creature'
'The Other Man' is a rather unpleasant tale about a Miss Gaurey who is made to marry a man thirty-five years her senior, the rather austere Colonel Schreidierling, even though she loved another. In marriage the girl deteriorated in health and looks and became a social outcast, 'her box very seldom had any cards in it'. However things look up for her when she learns that 'The Other Man', her lost love, who is in poor health, is visiting her town, Simla. Unfortunately when she goes to his tonga carriage he is sitting up inside, dead. Kipling helps cover up the incident to save the girl from scandal, however she later dies of a broken heart.
"Kidnapped" is a strange tell of a young Department man called Peythroppe who is prevented from entering on an unwise marriage through being kidnapped by "The Three Men" who take him, involuntarily at first it appears, on a shooting trip. The whole ruse is arranged by the formidable Mrs Hauksbee who must have been modelled on someone Kipling knew, so frequent are her appearances.
The comical side of life in the sub-continent is revealed in "The Taking of Lungtungpen" when a lovable Irish rogue called Private Mulvaney, who appears to be a friend of the author, relates the tale of how his patrol took the dacoits of Lungtungpen by surprise through launching an attack in the nude or in Mulvaney's own words, "as naked as Vanus".
The other thirty-three tales are just as fascinating, some of them funny, some of them tragic, all of them immensely readable and packed with many witty and memorable Kipling quotes, they provide a valuable insight into life in India when it was coloured red on the map.